Blackfish Movie Review
The most disappointing part about Blackfish is that it never makes a reference to Free Willy. Otherwise, the documentary, which questions the morality of using orcas in theme park performances, is one of the most powerful movies of the year.
Blackfish revolves around the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was brutally killed during a water show at the theme park. Sea World initially blamed Brancheau's actions for the incident, but filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite comes to a different conclusion: that Sea World ignored obvious evidence that the killer whale in question, Tilikum, was widely known to be aggressive to humans.
Cowpoerthwaite uses Brancheau's death to establish that Tilkum's aggression was due to cruel conditions imposed by various theme parks, including Sea World. It's safe to assume she is not an annual pass holder of the park.
At a fast-paced 83 minutes, Blackfish paints a vivid and hard-to-argue picture of why orcas should not be held in captivity. It's now commonly known that orcas are intelligent, emotional creatures that are used to swimming hundreds of miles a day. Combined with a variety of other pieces of evidence, it's pretty clear that killer whales should not be restrained to swimming pools, no matter how large.
At the very least, Cowpoerthwaite lays out why Tilikum became the way he did and that his various theme parks had ample opportunity to remove the whale from shows. The interviews with employees at Tilikum's original home at Sealand of the Pacific (a park I visited as a child when Tilikum was there) are pretty scathing, and they're only the tip of the iceberg.
As powerful as Blackfish is, it has two weaknesses: it lacks any official comment from Sea World officials (not surprisingly), and it offers no argument in favor of keeping orcas in captivity. Cowpoerthwaite clearly has an agenda in mind, which is fine, but it would have been great to hear from some other former whale trainers who perhaps disagree with her stance. Having a less one-sided perspective could have made the argument even more powerful, or at least demonstrated less bias.
Nonetheless, Blackfish is a terrific documentary and among the best I've seen in years. Sad, tragic and persuasive, the film could serve as the beginning of the end of Sea World entertainment as we know it. A Michael Jackson soundtrack would have helped, however.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.